Jul 17, 2014 1:08 AM by Matthew Schwartz
Tucson - Art Evenchik recently received a Facebook friend request, seemingly from a guy he knows and likes. Art, a 61-year-old realtor who lives in Oro Valley, accepted. Then the "friend" had a question.
"He asked me if I received my money yet," Evenchik told the News 4 Tucson Investigators. "I basically said nobody's throwing any money at me, what are you talking about?"
Art's "friend" claimed to have won $150,000, in cash no less, from the United Nations Development Programme, and said Art could also win. The friend sent Art the link to the Facebook page of the guy who supposedly awarded him the money. That person, going by the name "Jeffrey Francis," sent Art at least 18 messages over the next few days. Francis said he's the Director of the UN Development Programme (an organization that works to alleviate poverty), and that the charity selects 10 Facebook users each month as winners.
We asked Art, "When did you start to get suspicious?" He said, "Well, I was tentative kind of all along because ‘ too good to be true' would be an understatement from the way this thing was presented."
The messages from Francis to Art were filled with mistakes, misspellings and poor grammar. He calls undp "unddh." then says that the organization "help retired, unemployed, worker's (sic) disable (sic), old, deaf, hard of hearing and hearing."
All Art had to do to claim his cash was send Western Union a "certificate fee." He would have to pay $1,000 to win $50,000; $1500 to win $100,000; $9,000 to win $900,000.
"That's when I said, I'm sorry but I don't have any money to pay right now," Art says.
Nick LaFleur, a spokesman for the Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona, told the News 4 Tucson Investigators that this is the first time he's heard of this Facebook scam in our area.
LaFleur said, "These things always come attached with some sort of fee, sometimes they say it's a processing fee, sometimes they say it's taxes. Whatever they call it, it always involves wiring money to someone."
Evenchik says the messages from the guy who sent him the friend request and "Jeffrey Francis" were so similar they probably came from the same person. So early on, Evenchik called his friend.
"I said, did you talk to me on Facebook this morning? And his answer was, 'Uh, no. In fact, I had to change my password this morning, my account was hacked."
The News 4 Tucson Investigators told the UN Development Programme that someone claiming to be Jeffrey Francis says he works with the organization and is offering cash prizes. UNDP spokesman Dylan Lowthian replied with this email to us:
"Websites, emails, phone calls and faxes offering jobs or prizes on behalf of UNDP are fabricated and fraudulent. Only UNDP is authorized to send communications or appeals to the public through its official website and social media channels. For reasons of security and confidentiality we are unable to comment on the status of individual staff members.
In this case, the fraudulent social media profile has been blocked at our request.
We strongly recommend that recipients of solicitations purporting to be from UNDP exercise caution. Financial loss and theft can result from the transfer of money or personal information to those issuing fraudulent correspondence.
Internet-based scams can be reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. Victims of scams may also wish to report them to local law enforcement authorities for appropriate action.
UNDP works to alleviate poverty in more than 170 countries and territories around the world, and is committed to improving quality of life for everyone. In light of this, the fraudulent use of our identity for criminal ends is reprehensible."
La Fleur of the BBB says, "If you get a message from a friend that seems a little fishy, especially when talking about getting free money or anything like that, call the friend."
Art Evenchik wants the public to know about this scam, although he didn't fall for it. He says, "We get very comfortable with our online personas, and we tend to think that the other person we're talking to is the actual person, but it's not necessarily who you think it is".
Evenchik says he knew this was a scam almost from the beginning, and that he played along to get as much information as possible to give to Oro Valley Police. But most of these hackers are overseas and nearly impossible to find. Just remember, you don't get something for nothing. Never wire money to strangers, or give them any personal information.
If you have a story you'd like us to investigate, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call our tip line, (520) 935-4444.